Tony Burgett, Equipment Operator II 

In the south, Labor Day signals an end to high humidity and hot summer days. Labor Day also signals that deer season is just around the corner, which means it’s the time of the year for hunters to concentrate on the farming aspects of wildlife management.

Hunters and farmers share common interests -- a love of the outdoors and mutual respect for the land and its resources. Safety is also a primary concern for both hunters and farmers. Safety has no less importance at deer camps than at the family farm. Most hunters recognize the apparent dangers associated with hunting and they seek to follow game laws for their own personal safety and that of their fellow hunters. The accident rate and death totals show the same level of safety is not often shown when operating a tractor as on a deer stand. Hunting is recognized as one of the safest outdoor sports and in turn, farming is considered one of the most dangersous occupations. Yet, many farm equipment injuries and deaths are avoidable.

Preventive maintenance of equipment can make it possible to avoid an unnecessary trip to the emergency room and quite possibly, a lifetime of heartache. Regardless of experience level, thoroughly reading all owner manuals will provide an overall understanding of the tractor, its implements and how they function. Likewise, owner manuals address matching horsepower ratings with implement size. Incorrect applications have the potential for serious personal injury or permanent equipment damage. Never use larger equipment than designed for your tractor, as rear overload can cause the front end to become dangerously light and substantially increase possibility of rollover and large horsepower tractors can destroy lightweight equipment.

Rollover is the primary concern in tractor safety and it is the leading cause of farm fatalities. The best way to reduce this risk is to always use your seatbelt in conjunction with a roll over protective structure (ROPS). If your tractor is not equipped with both devices, see your dealer for the right application and proper installation—do this today, as it could save your life! The ROPS and seatbelt are designed for operator protection only. Although children see riding alongside their dad as fun, this can be a very dangerous. Never allow others to ride with you and warn those nearby to remain at a safe distance, as bodily contact with moving equipment or flying debris can be deadly. Keep in mind that children and some adults may not realize the danger associated with farm equipment and how quickly accidents can occur. Furthermore, those in harm’s way may not realize the difficulty of signaling their presence, as an operator’s field of vision may be limited and hearing temporarily impaired by engine noise and use of necessary hearing protection.

Another safety measure to prevent rollover is maintaining a balanced workload. Position implements near the ground, regardless of forward or reverse speed. This is especially important when equipment is loaded, as the tractor may become dangerously unbalanced. Use extreme caution when crossing slopes or inclines and remember to make turns at a safe speed, as accidents can easily happen when a job is rushed.

Connecting and disconnecting implements poses other dangers. Never allow anyone between tractor and implements! Before changing equipment, turn the engine off and allow the power take off shaft (PTO) to completely stop. PTO covers should be in place and the shaft well greased. Loose fit clothing is comfortable, but presents a real danger near moving parts and when it comes to work gear, never overlook the value of a good pair of leather gloves, safety glasses and adequate hearing protection.

Keeping your tractor and implements clean and well maintained is perhaps the key to enjoying the many benefits of farming tractor ownership and it will help prolong the life of the unit. Clean surfaces allow for visual inspection for oil leaks, cracks, missing bolts or other needed repairs. Sharpen blades as needed to reduce wear on PTO and gearbox. Wash the entire tractor and spreader after applying fertilizer, lime or corrosive chemicals. Performing routine maintenance, checking tire pressure, fluid/oil levels, and greasing fittings/bearings will assure proper function and safe operation of tractor and equipment for years to come.

Although a variety of safety issues face farmers and wildlife managers, the overall message is simple—be mindful of the potential risk of personal injury to yourself as well as others. Best of luck with your food plots and have a great hunting season!